Butte Environmental Council v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

620 F.3d 936 (2010)

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Butte Environmental Council v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
620 F.3d 936 (2010)

Facts

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) required certain federal agencies to ensure that actions authorized by the agencies would not jeopardize the existence of endangered or threatened species (protected species) or adversely modify critical habitat. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (defendant) handbook stated that an action would be said to adversely modify habitat only if the loss of habitat would have significant adverse effects throughout the protected species’ entire range or appreciably diminish the capability of the habitat to satisfy the species’ essential needs. Regulations implementing the ESA required the FWS to assess the status of protected species, the effects of the proposed action, and the cumulative effect of the action on the species or its habitat. In central California, vernal pools—depressions that filled with rainwater in fall and winter but dried up in the spring—were critical habitat for the vernal pool fairy shrimp, the slender Orcutt grass, and several other species. The City of Redding (city) (defendant) planned to build a business park on a large site in central California. The city applied to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (corps) (defendant) for a permit, which the corps granted. The ESA required the city to consult with the FWS. The FWS developed a biological opinion, which found that the proposed business park would destroy about 234 acres of critical habitat for protected species, including the fairy shrimp. This amounted to about .26 percent of the shrimps’ nationwide habitat. The city proposed offsetting the habitat loss by protecting or providing about 19 acres of habitat at other locations. The FWS found that the business park would not jeopardize the existence of protected species or adversely modify the critical habitat. The Butte Environmental Council (council) (plaintiff), an environmental group, sued the corps and the FWS in federal district court under the Administrative Procedure Act. The council argued that the FWS’s finding that habitat would be destroyed contradicted the FWS’s conclusion that habitat would not be adversely modified. The council also argued that the FWS’s focus on large-scale effects on species allowed cumulative risks to be hidden. The FWS, the corps, and the city moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (O’Scannlain, J.)

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